The Papers Had Better Beware the Blogheads; MEDIA: Weblogs Are Challenging the Authority of Big-Name Columnists, and Readers Will Now Need Convincing That Their Opinions Are Worth Paying For

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER WILBY

DR JOHNSON insisted that no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. Nearly two centuries later, he would find the world full of blockheads - or blogheads, at any rate. The blogosphere - the millions of diaries or weblogs on the internet that give the authors' instant views on everything from Iraq to daffodils, plus the comments of their readers, is a phenomenon of our age. A very few, mainly Rightwing bloggers, get support from corporate interests. An equally small number attract advertising. But gross receipts for the vast majority are zero.

Established newspapers have already accepted that they can't now be first with the news. They thought they could still offer authoritative analysis and comment unavailable elsewhere.

The blogosphere has exploded that view. Young people particularly prefer the opinions of any Tom, Dick or Harry on the web to the carefullycrafted wisdom of a William Rees-Mogg, Simon Jenkins or Polly Toynbee. For highly paid columnists, as well as newspaper managements, the implications are terrifying.

Now The Guardian, having dipped a few tentative toes in the water (as The Times has also done, particularly over the past two months), will launch its own blogosphere within weeks. All its commentators are being invited to blog, not necessarily daily, but more frequently than they write their columns.

Many more contributors from outside the paper will pitch in: "We shall have 60 voices a day rather than just five," says Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor. Readers' comments, after vetting for libel and taste, will be posted instantly.

Crucially, the Guardian site will "point" (to use the blogosphere term) to other blogs that are thought to have something valuable to say. It may thus become the first port of call for those who want quick access to the best of the blogosphere.

The Guardian's model is the Huffington Post in America, launched last year by Arianna Huffington (formerly Stassinopoulos), the divorced wife of a Republican politician. …